Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Gary Maclean discusses his role as National Chef of Scotland in the first instalment of his regular column at Taste Magazine Scotland
Welcome to my regular column at Taste. For my first instalment I thought that I would try and demystify the role of National Chef of Scotland. This, as far as I know, is the first time a country has nominated a National Chef and, in true Scottish style, when it was first announced social media erupted asking if we should have a national plumber or car mechanic!
I was first asked in 2017 if I would be interested in taking up this new Government role, I first spoke about it with the amazing food writer Cate Devine. I thought that the position would go to one of Scotland’s superstars, but I was honoured and surprised to be asked. I was sent the remit from the team at the Scottish Government that, if I remember rightly, was about six pages long. What I homed in on was food education and food insecurity.
The appointment of a National Chef was set up to help promote Scotland’s produce and the associated health benefits, not only in what we produce as a nation but also in what we buy, serve, eat and cook day-by-day.
This is a Government post that runs with each term of parliament and now I’m in my second term that is expected to continue until March 2026. Although it is a government-appointed post, I am in no way interested in politics and am only interested in the promotion of our incredible produce and in food education.
This is also a voluntary role which is great because I am not influenced by a pay cheque and I only get involved in projects that I feel passionate about or if I think I could make a difference.
The only reason I can donate so much of my time to the role is due to the incredible support I get from my employers at the City of Glasgow College for the senior team there believes in the role and the positive impact it has on food education throughout Scotland.
Since 2017 I have been truly amazed at the impact food can have on people, food has an incredible way of bringing people together from all walks of life. I personally think the biggest impact I can make in the role is to be working with young people who are on the outer edges of our society, people who have had a really bad start in life and who are disengaged with education and life in general.
I have seen some of the so-called bad kids excel in the kitchen. My objective is not to recruit for the hospitality industry but to share my experience and story with them and, hopefully, inspire them to find what they are passionate about and follow their dreams.
Young people don´t get a chance to escape their lives and engage in something completely different. I would say over the years I have spent most of my time working with people who really need a boost and a chance in life.
I have had days in every level of our education system from nursery schools to universities to teach and showcase the world of food. I love to do hands-on cookery lessons and I have had kids as young as three or four getting involved with food.
My ultimate goal is that every child in Scotland gets a solid education in food and cookery from primary school right through to high school. I believe that this would go a long way in helping with our nation’s health issues and also will help with our climate goals. I also think with good food education it will help the food and hospitality industry. My food journey started with an amazing home economics teacher who opened up the world of food to me.
Another thing that I have done over the years is to support our international export of food and drink. I devote some of my time to Scottish Development International who are a Scottish Government organisation that are charged with the promotion of all things Scottish around the world.
I have been able to show off our outstanding home grown food and drink to some of the world’s biggest companies and importers and along the way to hundreds of chefs around the world. Most people do not realise that Scottish produce is revered in the very best establishments in every corner of the world.
Now that we are trying to get back to some sort of new normal, I am very much looking forward to getting back out and sharing my love of food.
Gary Maclean’s Creel Caught restaurant is located at Bonnie & Wild Scottish Marketplace within the St James Quarter in Edinburgh. He is also author of Kitchen Essentials: The Joy of Home Cooking.